by Nancy Hassel, American Pet Professionals
Have you ever played the Kevin Bacon Game? Usually called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, it is a game that challenges you to connect any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon in 6 connections or less. It is based on the Six Degrees of Separation concept, which says that any person can be connected to another person in 6 connections or less. Oddly enough, I can be connected to Kevin Bacon in fewer than 6 connections. I have never needed this connection, even though he has written at least one song about his dog.
Ok, so we are not really talking about Kevin Bacon. It is, however, about how connected we humans really are to each other. In this blog post we will talk about the benefits of relationship networking and how to get the most out of the time you spend networking with American Pet Professionals and other organizations.
Good business networking is based on relationships
Not all networking groups are created equally. That is one of the reasons I began one where we could connect in a more personal way. Some networking groups can start to feel like the professional version of speed dating, where you spend 5 minutes talking to someone and if you are not of immediate use to them, they move on.
There is a classic saying that people will always remember how you made them feel and brushing someone off after a few minutes is not a good way to make a good first impression. I am very proud that American Pet Professionals has never been that sort of group.
A good business networking group is based on getting to know your fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. The more you get to know each other, the more you can help them with referrals and help them understand the type of clients you seek.
When I started American Pet Professionals in 2009, my goal was to create a sense of community among pet professionals here on Long Island. Ever since then, we have been about camaraderie, education, and collaboration with the goal of promoting our members and the pet industry as a whole. We have expanded from connecting only on Long Island and created connections with pet professionals all over the country, and even all over the world.
Authentic conversations to have while networking
Whether you meet for coffee, via Zoom or Clubhouse, getting to know your fellow business owners is a great investment of your time. Keep the conversation focused on what you do, why you do it, and where you hope to take your business in the future.
This is not the time to sell to each other, it is a chance to find out how you can each be of service to one another.
- Who can you introduce each other to?
- How can you help support each other’s business?
- What is your ideal client? (This is a great question to ask when networking to get to understand your new connections’ business better).
- What are your goals for the year?
There is a popular saying that goes something along the lines of, “people do business with people they know, like, and trust.” Feel free to share business-appropriate stories about your family, your pets, your personal hobbies. When networking, it is nice to get to know the person behind the business, especially as a small business owner.
The importance of following up after networking
After attending a networking event, it’s easy to come home with a handful of business cards or now a inbox full of messages or DM’s. Without following up with the people you have met, all you have is a handful of business cards or ignored messages. Before moving on to your next task or project, take time to send an email to the people who you just met. Invite them to connect in the next week or two while your initial meeting is fresh in both your minds. It is helpful to suggest a few potential time slots, or including a link to a meeting scheduling tool like Calendly.
Pre-Covid, when we were all attending many networking events and conferences in the industry – the pile of business cards could be overwhelming when unpacking. Here are two simple tips: (1) When you meet someone and you’re exchanging business cards, after the meeting or during, jot down a few things you learned about that person and business, on their business card. This way when you are following up after arriving home, you will make an impression, remembering the conversation and specific information about when you met. (2) Connect with your new connection on LinkedIn a simple way to refresh their memory – and this can be done while you’re sitting in the airport waiting for your return flight.
The unlimited potential of who you might meet while networking
If you are not accustomed to relationship networking, it can seem like you are not “getting” anything out of it. The return on the investment of your time is not immediate. It is not easily trackable. You might never find a way to partner with each other or interact after that. And that’s ok.
The thing that I love about relationship networking is that you never know who you are going to meet. And not only do you never know who you might meet yourself, you never know who that person knows.
I once met someone I never met, separated by 3 degrees, not Kevin Bacon, but because I attended a networking event. I made a connection with someone at that event, who then referred me to one of their connections. I ended up meeting another connection from that 2nd person, who became a now good friend and business mentor. We have known each other for 20 years now.
You never know if the person who you meet for coffee is connected to someone who can open up doors for your business or be your next loyal customer. When you create authentic relationships, you open the potential for meeting the right person who can help your business soar. It is that old idiom “it’s not what you know but who you know” put into practice.
Word of mouth referrals from fellow business owners help you expand your reach
As small business owners, many of us spend substantial time using social media, networking, meeting new people, and interacting with our own customers. As influencers and experts in our own industries, we have the ability to provide useful recommendations when we hear of someone in need of a product or service.
One of the easiest examples is that an owner of a pet retail store is a trusted source of other pet related information with their clients. Their clients often rely on them for recommendations for pet sitters, boarding kennels, groomers, and other service providers. The more they know the local service providers in their area, the more confidently they can suggest you to their clients, because they know your background, your mission, and what you are like as a pet professional and an individual.
Your relationships and your business continue to evolve together
If you have been in business awhile, you realize that your goals are continually evolving and changing. In fact, if you read our recent blog, 12 Ways to Reignite Your Pet Business in 2021, you know that adding a new product or service is an excellent way to keep your business (and your passion for what you do) fresh and exciting.
Someone who you meet through networking might not be a potential partner for you today. However, as your business evolves, your needs will evolve, too. You may find yourself in need of outsourcing a task, or adding a category of products to your retail operation. You may find yourself working directly with a fellow business owner who you have known for years but only recently entered the same market or added services that complement each other.
Developing friends with like-minded pet professionals
Owning a small business can sometimes feel isolating. If you have left the corporate world, you will find that your former colleagues do not always understand the struggles of pet entrepreneurship. It is a much different world than working for someone else and collecting a paycheck. If you are a solopreneur, you can end up feeling isolated without any coworkers or employees. If you are the owner of a business, you have a different relationship with your employees than you probably did if you supervised a team while working for someone else.
Developing new friendships with other business owners has many benefits beyond helping each other grow your businesses. Whether you become accountability partners or just form a friendship, it is nice to have a friend who understands why you do what you do.
If you are looking for that community and camaraderie, sign up for our VIP Waitlist to learn when enrollment doors to join and become a member of American Pet Professionals are open again. We provide so much relationship networking, support and business know how – you will find your tribe of pet entrepreneurs to grow with.